If You Want to Know Who is Responsible for IRS Audit Scandal … Look in the Mirror.
May 16, 2013
“Republicans think Democrats are stupid. Democrats think Republicans are evil.”
“If you are under 30 and conservative, you don’t have a heart. If you are over 30 and a liberal, you don’t have a brain.”
Anyone who has even a remote interest in politics has heard the above jokes. And like all jokes that work, they contain some element of truth. Unfortunately, the element of truth in those jokes—intense dislike of those on the other side of the political spectrum—poses a real threat to our nation.
You don’t think we hate those on the opposite side of the political spectrum? You must not have ever seen the cars with the “Republicans for Voldemort” bumper stickers in the Franconia-Springfield Metro Station. You must have missed Chris Matthews talking about how racism and bigotry motivates political opposition to President Obama. Or you missed the opprobrium that conservatives dished out to Melissa Harris-Perry for imprecisely stating that children are our nation’s greatest resource, worthy of community investment.
Well then, you say, what is wrong with a little hate? “Politics ain’t beanbag.” What I call hate, others may call passion.
The problem is that our “passion” contains a real chance of shifting our nation’s moral perspective. When you hate your fellow citizens and view them as evil, it enables your conscience to justify all sorts of otherwise unacceptable behavior.
I’m an attorney, not a philosopher—my brother, though, teaches philosophy at CUA. One of the great philosophical questions involves whether it is acceptable to meet evil with evil. We’d all agree that it was okay to lie to the Nazis if you were hiding Jews. So by that same logic, if your political opponents are evil, why not smear them, take quotes out of context, or make life more administratively burdensome for them?
Well, that’s just the political class, you say. Nobody likes politicians; why not let them destroy each other? Good riddance and well-deserved.
Unfortunately, it is not only our political class that lacks decency. No one can deny that our society as a whole is becoming less civil. On the radio this morning, the hosts of a popular Washington, D.C. show were mocking and laughing at callers who had left polite messages complaining about their program’s content. It wasn’t funny; it was sad to hear the derision dripping over the airwaves. Even if it were only the political class making fools of themselves, nothing exists in vacuum. The information and technology revolution, while tremendously beneficial overall, has politicized nearly all aspects of our society today. How many of us are now casting our economic votes and choosing products based on the political preferences of the respective company CEOs? Our society is becoming truly polarized to an extent never seen before.
Last night President Obama rightly called the conduct of the IRS inexcusable. He also called for new laws to prevent this from ever happening again. In this aspect, he is spectacularly wrong. New laws and regulations cannot prevent another occurrence of this type of behavior when our political climate remains toxic.
I recently hung up my uniform after serving our country for 24 years. One of the first, fundamental leadership lessons I learned is that an organization takes on the character traits of its leaders. If I cut corners, my Marines quickly began to follow suit. Why would our society be any different? Our leaders of both political parties need to ratchet down their rhetoric and acknowledge that opposing political positions are based on legitimate concerns and hopes, rather than bigotry and malice.
Our public servants in the IRS and other government agencies are not magical creatures who are immune to the limitations of human nature. Instead, they and the rest of us are flawed human beings. When you view your political opponents as “enemies” rather than fellow citizens, treating them unfairly is easily rationalized.
Investigators will uncover the truth about the IRS scandal. Regardless of what facts come to light, if we do not take ownership of our society and try to treat each other with more civility and respect, this scandal will be the first, rather than the last, of its kind.
Many of our past Presidents, Republican and Democrat alike, have paraphrased Alexis de Tocqueville, saying “America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.”
We need to stop and reflect on whether the attitudes and discourse we currently share with others are commensurate with what we expect from citizens of a “good” nation. If we truly want to keep a scandal like this from happening again, we must resolve to treat the other side of the political spectrum with the decency and respect that we all deserve.